On Sunday, June 30, the cessation clause concerning Rwandan refugees came into effect. This means that Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 have lost their refugee status across the world.
This follows a process that began in 2002 where the Rwandan government approached the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) saying that the reasons that caused Rwandans to flee were no longer applied and that Rwanda was ready to receive all refugees.
In 2009, after many field visits, UNHCR concurred with the government that Rwanda was stable and safe. It was decided after consultation with key stakeholders and host countries, who all validated the strategy, that cessation would come into effect in 2013.
We are ready to receive all refugees
Speaking to journalists at a press conference, Minister of Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana said that Rwanda was safe and stable, ready to receive all returning refugees.
“We have done everything possible to facilitate the process for refugees. They can either choose to return home and Rwanda is doing everything we possibly can to facilitate this. Refugees can also choose if they have economic and personal ties in the countries of host, to remain there and become naturalised. In this case, Rwanda is ready to facilitate them with passports so they can join the community of Rwandans living abroad,” she said.
Minister Mukantabana also revealed that passport application forms had been sent to all Rwandan embassies abroad or in the institutions in charge of refugees in countries that host Rwandan refugees so that the process of acquiring Rwandan passports would be speeded up.
“We have also prepared, together with our partners, a comprehensive program to receive and reintegrate all refugees into their communities. The plan covers areas such as land questions, justice questions and how to earn a living after the first few months.”
We congratulate the Rwandan government for doing its part– UNHCR
Neimah Warsame, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda, congratulated the government for facilitating both returning refugees and those who will choose to remain in host countries. “I salute the country’s leadership for availing passports for those who will remain in host countries and for remaining engaged in the process. We had extensive consultations with stakeholders and all host countries have re-validated their agreement with cessation. We also want to assure everyone that UNHCR undertakes comprehensive monitoring to make sure all refugees are properly reintegrated and what we have seen is promising. Local leaders are taking care of returnees.”
Host countries at different levels of readiness
Over the weekend 170 refugees returned from the DRC and indicated that many more wish to return. The DRC, where the largest number of Rwandan refugees lives, has asked for three months to be able to assess the number of Rwandan refugees in the country. From there, discussions will begin on repatriation and local integration options.
Other countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi have already indicated that they are ready to apply cessation and have set up local integration mechanisms.
Uganda has 4000 and Congo Brazzaville has 8000 refugees that fall under cessation criteria. They are currently in discussions with Rwanda on the way forward.
To date, more than three million Rwandans have returned post genocide. It is estimated that about 100,000 Rwandan refugees remain around the world.
“The process does not happen overnight, implementation of cessation can take a year or more but what is certain, we are proud that Rwandans today do not have to be called refugees and we encourage all refugees to make their choice to either return or seek local integration options,” concluded Minister Mukantabana.